Chapter VIII. Fun in the Woods
 

"Dinner served in the dining car!" called Bert through the woods, imitating the call of the porter on the Pullman car.

"All ready!" echoed the other boys, banging on an old boiler like the Turks do, instead of ringing a bell.

"Oh, how pretty!" the girls all exclaimed, as they beheld the "feast in the forest," as Nan put it. And indeed it was pretty, for at each place was set a long plume of fern leaves with wood violets at the end, and what could be more beautiful than such a decoration?

"Potatoes first!" Harry announced, "because they may get cold," and at this order everybody broke the freshly roasted potatoes into the paper napkins and touched it up with the extra butter that had come along.

"Simply fine!" declared Nan, with the air of one who knew. Now, my old readers will remember how Nan baked such good cake. So she ought to be an authority on baked potatoes, don't you think?

Next came the sandwiches, with the watercress Harry and Bert had gathered before breakfast, then (and this was a surprise) hot chocolate! This was brought out in Martha's cider jug, and heated in a kettle over the boys' stone furnace.

"It must be fun to camp out," Mabel Herold remarked.

"Yes, just think of the dishes saved," added Mildred Manners, who always had so many dishes to do at home.

"And we really don't need them," Nan argued, passing her tin cup on to Flossie.

"Think how the soldiers get along!" Bert put in.

"And the firemen'" lisped Freddie, who never forgot the heroes of flame and water.

Of course everybody was either sitting on the grass or on a "soft stump." These latter conveniences had been brought by the boys for Aunt Sarah and Mrs. Bobbsey.

"What's that!" exclaimed little Flossie, as something was plainly moving under the tables cloth.

"A snake, a snake!" called everybody at once, for indeed under the white linen was plainly to be seen the creeping form of a reptile.

While the girls made a run for safety the boys carefully lifted the cloth and went for his snakeship.

"There he is! There he is!" shouted Tom Mason, as the thing tried to crawl under the stump lately used as a seat by Mrs. Bobbsey.

"Whack him!" called August Stout, who, armed with a good club, made straight for the stump.

"Look out! He's a big fellow!" Harry declared, as the snake attempted to get upright.

The boys fell back a little now, and as the snake actually stood on the tip of his tail, as they do before striking, Harry sprang forward and dealt him a heavy blow right on the head that laid the intruder flat.

"At him, boys! At him!" called Jack Hopkins, while the snake lay wriggling in the grass; and the boys, making good use of the stunning blow Harry had dealt, piled on as many more blows as their clubs could wield.

All this time the girls and ladies were over on a knoll "high and dry," as Nan said, and now, when assured that the snake was done for they could hardly be induced to come and look at him.

"He's a beauty!" Harry declared, as the boys actually stretched the creature out to measure him. Bert had a rule, and when the snake was measured up he was found to be five feet long!

"He's a black racer!" Jack Hopkins annpounced, and the others said they guessed he was.

"Lucky we saw him first!" remarked Harry, "Racers are very poisonous!"

"Let's go home; there might be more!", pleaded Flossie, but the boys said the snake hunt was the best fun at the picnic.

"Goodness!" exclaimed Harry suddenly, "we forgot to let the pigeons loose!" and so saying he ran for the basket of birds that hung on the low limb of a pretty maple. First Harry made sure the messages were safe under each bird's wing, then he called:

"All ready!"

Snap! went something that sounded like a shot (but it wasn't), and then away flew the pretty birds to take the messages home to John and Martha. The shot was only a dry stick that Tom Mason snapped to imitate a gun, as they do at bicycle races, but the effect was quite startling and made the girls jump.

"It won't take long for them to get home!" said Bert, watching the birds fly away.

"They'll get lost!" cried Freddie.

"No, they won't. They know which way we came," Nan explained.

"But they was shut up in the basket," argued Freddie.

"Yet they could see," Nan told him.

"Can pigeons see when they're asleep?" inquired the little fellow.

"Maybe," Nan answered.

"Then I'd like to have pigeon eyes," he finished, thinking to himself how fine it would be to see everything going on around and be fast asleep too.

"Oh, mamma, come quick!" called Flossie, running along a path at the edge of the wood. "There's a tree over there pouring water, and it isn't raining a drop!"

Everybody set out now to look at the wonderful tree, which was soon discovered where Flossie had found it.

"There it is!" she exclaimed. "See the water dropping down!"

"A maple tree," Harry informed them, "and that sap is what they make maple sugar out of."

"Oh, catch it!" called Freddie, promptly holding his cap under the drops.

"It would take a good deal to make a sugar cake," Harry said, "but maybe we can get enough of it to make a little cake for Freddie."

At this the country boys began looking around for young maples, and as small limbs of the trees were broken the girls caught the drops in their tin cups. It took quite a while to get a little, but by putting it all together a cupful was finally gathered.

"Now we will put it in a clean milk bottle," Mrs. Bobbsey said, "and maybe we can make maple syrup cake to-morrow."

"Let's have a game of hide-and-seek," Nan suggested.

In a twinkling every boy and girl was hidden behind a tree, and Nan found herself "It." Of course it took a big tree to hide the girls' dresses, and Nan had no trouble in spying Mildred first. Soon the game was going along merrily, and the boys and girls were out of breath trying to get "home free."

"Where's Roy?" exclaimed Tom Mason, the little boy's brother.

"Hiding somewhere," Bessie ventured, for it only seemed a minute before when the little fat boy who was Freddie's companion had been with the others.

"But where is he?" they all soon exclaimed in alarm, as call after call brought no answer.

"Over at the maple tree!" Harry thought.

"Down at the spring," Nan said.

"Looking for flowers," Flossie guessed.

But all these spots were searched, and the little boy was not found.

"Oh, maybe the giants have stoled him!" Freddie cried.

"Or maybe the children's hawk has took him away," Flossie sobbed.

Meanwhile everybody searched and searched, but no Roy could they find.

"The boat!" suddenly exclaimed Tom, making a dash for the pond that ran along at the foot of a steep hill.

"There he is! There he is!" the brother yelled, as getting over the edge of the hill Tom was now in full view of the pond.

"And in the boat," called Harry, close at Tom's heels.

"He's drifting away!" screamed Bert. "Oh, quick, save him!"

Just as the boys said, the little fellow was in the boat and drifting.

He did not seem to realize his danger, for as he floated along he ran his little fat hand through the water as happily as if he had been in a steam launch, talking to the captain.

"Can you swim?" the boys asked Bert, who of course had learned that useful art long ago.

"She's quite a long way out," Tom said,

"But we must be careful not to frighten him. See, he has left the oars here. Bert and I can carry one out and swim with one hand. Harry and Jack, can you manage the other?"

The boys said they could, and quickly as the heaviest clothes could be thrown off they were striking out in the little lake toward the baby in the boat. He was only Freddie's age, you know, and perhaps more of a baby than the good-natured Bobbsey boy.

"Sit still, Roy," called the anxious girl from the shore, fearing Roy would upset the boat as the boys neared him. It was hard work to swim and carry oars, but our brave boys managed to do it in time to save Roy. For not a great way down the stream were an old water wheel and a dam. Should the boat drift there what would become of little Roy?

Mrs. Bobbsey and Aunt Sarah were worrying over this as the boys were making their way to the boat.

"Easy now!" called Bert. "Here we are," and at that moment the first pair of swimmers climbed carefully into the boat, one from each side, so as not to tip it over. Jack and Harry were not long in following, and as the boys all sat in the pretty green rowboat with their white under-clothing answering for athletic suits, their looked just like a crew of real oarsmen.

"Hurrah, hurrah!" came shout after shout from the bank. Then as the girls heard the rumble of wheels through the grove they all hurried off to gather up the stuff quickly, and be ready to start as soon as the boys dressed again. The wet under-clothing, of course, was carried home in one of the empty baskets that Freddie ran back over the hill with to save the tired boys the extra walk.

"Here they are! Here they are!" called the girls as the two little fellows, Roy and Freddie, with the basket of wet clothes between them, marched first; then came the two pairs of athletes who proved they were good swimmers by pushing the heavy oars safely to the drifting boat.

"And all the things that happened!" exclaimed Flossie, as John handed her into the hay wagon.

"That made the picnic lively!" declared, John, "and all's well that ends well, you know." So the picnic was over, and all were happy and tired enough to go to bed early that night, as Nan said, seeing the little ones falling asleep in hay wagon on their way home.